If Beale Street Could Talk Troubled About My Soul: Section 1 Summary
by James Baldwin

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Troubled About My Soul: Section 1 Summary

If Beale Street Could Talk is set in Harlem in the 1970s. The novel is narrated from the point of view of 19-year-old Clementine “Tish” Rivers. She begins her narration with a rumination on the peculiarity of both her name and that of her 22-year-old boyfriend, Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt. She muses that neither of their nicknames matches with their respective legal names. Tish has just visited Fonny at the jail in which he is currently detained for an as-yet-undisclosed crime. Tish asserts that he is innocent.

During this visit, Tish tells Fonny that she is pregnant with their child. While Fonny is shocked at the notion that he is to become a father, he quickly expresses his happiness and excitement. Tish, too, is excited, because she and Fonny are deeply in love. Tish leaves the jail knowing she must tell her family that evening.

Tish chooses to ride the bus home instead of taking the subway back to Harlem, because she wants more time to think about how she will make the announcement to her family. While riding the bus, Tish realizes that the world around her and the people in it look different now that she has so much trouble weighing on her heart. She mentions that Sis, the name by which she affectionately refers to her older sister Ernestine, made an appointment with a lawyer who has agreed to represent Fonny.

Tish recalls the first time she met Fonny. Slightly older than she, Fonny hangs around the neighborhood with a group of boys who get into trouble. Tish’s best friend at that time is a strong-willed girl named Geneva, who absolutely despises Fonny for some now-forgotten reason. Likewise, Fonny’s best friend, Daniel, loathes Geneva. One afternoon, Geneva and Daniel exchange words before engaging in a physical confrontation. Tish tries to grab Daniel, who is on top of Geneva, when Fonny seizes Tish and begins attacking her. To defend herself, Tish hits Fonny with a stick she fetches from a trash can. When Tish hits Fonny with the stick, a rusty nail she had not realized was poking through cuts Fonny’s cheek. Horrified at the sight of blood, the kids stop fighting and disperse.

Immediately afterward, Geneva castigates Tish, claiming that Fonny will surely die from his wound. Feeling guilty after not seeing Fonny in the neighborhood for a few days, Tish wanders into Frank Hunt’s tailor shop to ask about Fonny. Frank, who is Fonny’s father, tells her that Fonny is staying with relatives in the South for a few weeks, and Frank promises to tell Fonny that Tish asked for him. Upon Fonny’s return, Tish offers him a doughnut as an apology. Afterward, Tish and Fonny become inseparable friends.

In a series of memories out of chronological order, Tish describes how her relationship with Fonny developed into a romantic one. She explains that Fonny’s mother, Mrs. Hunt, never truly loved her only son, whereas Frank always doted on the boy. Often, Fonny spends time with Tish when he is supposed to be attending Sunday school at Mrs. Hunt’s Sanctified church. Mrs. Hunt is a rigid, sanctimonious woman who imposes her religious beliefs on others, yet Tish intimates that Mrs. Hunt is not as holy as she leads others to believe. Tish once asks Fonny if Frank and Mrs. Hunt ever made love, to which Fonny responds with a description of bizarre and degrading sexual encounters during which Frank cursed and Mrs. Hunt cried out to God. 

Tish vividly recalls the time Fonny invited her to attend church with him and his mother. Fonny arrives at the Rivers’ home wearing his normally unkempt hair in a thickly greased style. Sis had picked out Tish’s outfit that morning. Mrs. Hunt is dressed elaborately, with a veiled hat that Tish finds unsettling.

Having only ever been to a Baptist church occasionally, Tish is unprepared for both the Sanctified building and its congregation’s worship practices. Formerly a post office, the church has low ceilings and a suffocating atmosphere . Mrs. Hunt parades her family down the center aisle that draws...

(The entire section is 1,266 words.)